Shutter Speed – In beginner speak, err “Shutter Speed”

Continuing the series of posts where I try to explain some of the basic concepts of photography in “beginner speak”. If you like the concept, have anything to add, any futher questions or want to suggest another topic then let me know. Either add a comment below or email me.

Shutter speed is probably the first experience anyone has with the technicalities of photography. Remember when you were a kid trying to take photos with your parents camera and they kept telling you to keep the camera still. That was due to shutter speed, but what it is?

Loaded Up

The shutter speed is the lenght of time that the shutter is open for, allowing the sensor (or film) to be exposed to the light a given amount of time. The longer the shutter is open for the more light will be let in. Shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds so it’s not really a “speed” at all. It’s a time. Short exposure times are refered to as “fast” shutter speeds, long exposure times are refered to as “slow” shutter speeds.

Why do I need to worry about shutter speed?

Unlike aperture and depth of field shutter speed does not need to be controlled continuously to affect the creative aspects of a photo, instead you need to stick between certain min and max settings depending on what aspect you are trying to contol. Shutter speed is mostly used to control two aspect of photography…

  • Camera Shake – This is where you have moved the camera while the shutter is open causing the image to be blured (bad!). You can avoid this affect by ensuring you shuuter speed is faster than a given minimum. This min is 1 over the focal lenght of your lens. Sounds complicated but is really simple. If your focal length is 60mm then use a shutter speed of 1/60 sec or faster. Focal length 200mm, min shutter speed 1/200. Simple.
  • Motion blur – This is where an aspect of the scene you are photographing moves while you have the shutter open. The moving aspects will be blured while the stationary objects will be sharp. Generally shutter speed of 1/20 sec or slower will give motion blur but it really depends on how fast the subject is moving. You can create lots of creative photos with this effect such as panning, blured people, motion blur, silky water, zoom blur, light painting, light trails, the list goes on.

So shutter speed is really simple with just two things to consider when taking a shot.

Is my shutter speed fast enough to avoid camera shake?
Will my shutter speed allow motion blur or not and do I want it?

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6 Responses to “Shutter Speed – In beginner speak, err “Shutter Speed””


  1. 1 Aaron Brown 7 February 2009 at 2:11 am

    Good summary. I just put up a post where I talked about the challenges of shooting some fast moving creatures (Lemurs) in low light with slow shutter speeds.

    http://learningphotog.blogspot.com/2009/02/photographing-animals-at-zoo-part-2.html

  2. 2 armand 22 November 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Nice summary …. one must also bear in mind regarding preventing camera shake for cropped bodies /reduced-framed sensors …use 1 over focal length x crop factor as well
    eg for 100mm focal length , to reduce camera shake generally use 1/100 x1.6 for cameras with 1.6 crop factor i.e 1/160 sec shutter speed .


  1. 1 Motion Blur « Fletch’s Photo Blog Trackback on 2 December 2008 at 11:04 pm
  2. 2 Auto ISO - Arrrhhh « Fletch’s Photo Blog Trackback on 29 December 2008 at 2:38 pm
  3. 3 The Exposure Tiangle - In Beginner Speak “The End of Auto Mode” « Fletch’s Photo Blog Trackback on 20 February 2009 at 5:32 pm
  4. 4 Your Camera’s Mode Dial – In Beginner Speak « Fletch’s Photo Blog Trackback on 15 May 2009 at 10:33 am

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Welcome to my blog

I am an amatuer photographer living in Sheffield, England. My blog will detail my photography journey, from fumbling beginer to, hopefully one day, competant and knowledgeable photographer

By sharing my experince hopefully I can help every one else with the same goals and maybe, just maybe impart some of the knowledge I have leaned

If you have any questions or comments about the blog then why not email me.
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